Chennai, June 14 (IANS) In a huge relief to the AIADMK government headed by Edappadi Palaniswamy, the Madras High Court on Thursday delivered a split verdict in the case relating to disqualification of 18 MLAs, an order that will allow the present status quo to continue, at least for some more time.
While Chief Justice Indrani Banerjee declined to interfere with the order of the Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P. Dhanapal disqualifying 18 MLAs owing allegiance to sidelined AIADMK leader T. T.V. Dhinakaran in September last year, the other judge Justice M Sundar forming the two-judge bench set aside the Speaker's order on the ground it is hit by "perversity, non compliance with the principles of natural justice, mala fides and violation of constitutional mandate".
The judges said since there has been disgreement between them, the case should be transferred to a third judge. Since the Chief Justice is involved in the matter, she is of he view that it would not be appropriate for her to nominate the third judge. Hence, the next senior-most judge would name the third judge, they said.
It is likely that the decision to name the third judge will most likely be taken by the senior-most judge Justice Kuluvadi Ramesh.
Maintaining status quo, the court also said till the case is finally decided the interim order issued earlier that barred holding of by-elections and floor test in the Assembly continue to be valid.
In the 296-page judgement, Justice Banerjee said that in her opinion the view taken by the Speaker is a possible, if not plausible view, and "I am unable to hold that the said decision is any way unreasonable, irrational or perverse".
"It is well-settled that when two views are possible, the High Court does not in exercise of its power of judicial review conferred under Article 226 of the Constitution of India interfere with the decision just because it prefers the other view. No interference is, therefore, warranted with the impugned order passed by the Speaker," she said, dismissing the petitions by the disqualified MLAs.
In his order differing with the Chief Justice, Justice Sundar said "sum totality of discussion leads this court to inevitably conclude that the impugned order of the Speker disqualifying 18 writ petitioners herein deserves to be set aside."
Citing various Supreme Court judgements, he said the Speaker's order was hit by perversity, non-compliance with the princioples of natural justice, mala fides and violation of constitutional mandate."
"It is made clear that his order is being passed without relying on the Yeddyurappa case owing to the controversy regarding implied overruling/per incuriam qua Nabam Rebia which has been left open," he said.
Responding to the judgment, rebel leader Dhinakaran said: "The longevity of the anti-people government now gets extended by couple of months. But it is not at all a setback for us. We got 50 per cent victory."
Had the judgement gone either way - upholding the disqualification or setting aside the Speaker's order, the AIADMK government would have faced critical problems.
In case the court had upheld the disqualification, then there would have been by-elections in 18 constituencies, exposing the ruling party to vulnerabilities of electoral politics
On other hand, if the court had quashed the Speaker's disqualification order, the government may have to face an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion, which it will find difficult to survive.
In the 234-member Assembly, the AIADMK has 116 members followed by the DMK with 89, Congress with 8, one of the IUML, one Independent, the Speaker and 18 vacant seats. Besides, there is a nominated member.
DMK leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, M.K.Stalin, in a tweet, said: "Not only delayed justice is denied.... When people are having faith on the judiciary for protecting democracy. there should be clear and fast judgements."
PMK founder S.Ramadoss said the state government is surviving mainly due to legal delays and others and the K. Palaniswami government has no justification to continue in power and should resign immediately.
VCK leader Thol Thirumavalan termed the judgment "unexpected".
"The final decision on the case should be given at the earliest," Thirumavalavan added.
The case comes from the time when Panneerselvam had rebelled against the party led by jailed leader V.K. Sasikala. Later, he merged his group with the one led by Palaniswami, who sidelined Sasikala and her nephew Dinakaran.
A group of 19 lawmakers met then Governor C.V. Rao and gave a memorandum expressing loss of confidence in Palaniswami and requested him to appoint a new Chief Minister. The Speaker then issued notice to the lawmakers asking them why they should not be disqualified under the anti-defection law. Subsequently, one of them, S.T.K. Jakkaiyan, switched over to the Palaniswami side and the others were disqualified.
The case filed by the disqualified legislators against the Speaker's action is pending before the High Court since September 2017. The court had reserved the judgement on January 24.